Saturday, 17 August 2019


The i newspaper published a piece by The Secret Barrister last Wednesday - August 14 - which deserves wider circulation. It has two headlines:

Johnson's plan to lock up more criminals is a con

While the Prime Minister is lying to you, the rest of the criminal justice system rots 

HMP Birmingham in crisis - Lockdown - 1 March 2019

Here is a summary of the main points - and a link to the secret barrister's website: press here.

  •  Boris Johnson's plans are a con. He declares: 'Left-wingers will howl. But it's time to make criminals afraid - not the public'. Criminals must 'get the sentence they deserve'. In other words, let's lock up more people for longer.

  • Yet the idea that longer prison sentences by themselves make any of us safer is a fantasy. The notion that knife crime will be solved if we simply lock up young men for years on end is a hoax. What does act as a deterrent is not severity of sentence but certainty: the likelihood of being caught and dealt with swiftly.

In prison, you are deprived of your liberty - make no mistake, this is punishment

  •   Moreover crime reduction and prevention is not achieved solely by deterrence. Rehabilitation is a vital part of protecting the public. That is why, when dealing with complex, multi-causal offending rooted in social and cultural problems - caused in large part, I would add, by the neoliberal Tory-shaped misgovernment of the past decade - the courts may decide to keep a young man out of prison and punish him in the community.

Do the 'oiks' - the ordinary plebs - really matter? When Johnson, Cameron and Osborne were undergraduate members of the offensive Bullingdon Club at Oxford, what were their views on 'The Lower Orders'?

  • Reoffending rates are lower when offenders are kept in the community. Send them to prison and they lose their job, their social housing and their relationship, and exit prison with no support network other than the new friends they made inside.

  • But such argument and evidence is of no interest to Johnson. This Eton and Oxford-educated opportunist simply resorts to infantile attacks on those who offer a critique of his false claim that our justice system is soft. We already lock up more offenders than any other European country. Prison sentences have been getting longer and longer. We have more prisoners detained on indefinite and life sentences than any other country in the Council of Europe. 

  • As Johnson lies to us, the criminal justice system rots. Courts are being closed down and sold off across the country.  Half of all magistrates' courts have been closed, meaning defendants, victims and witnesses have to travel for hours on ineffective public transport to get to the 'local' court.  

  • The PM must have been advised that we have record rates of death, violence, suicide, overcrowding and self-harm in our prisons - and yet his first response is to pack more people behind bars.  

The Tory Government from 2015 seems to have fallen down on the job

                                                       Beware the fraudster!   

And what did Jago Stone, the survivor of some eighteen years behind bars, have to say on the subject? Here is an extract from his biography to be published this October. 

'A reformed criminal, Jago was not. He is, however, a prison reformer – although he claimed he was not so much a reformer as an abolitionist. Jago’s autobiography is more than a collection of amusing tales from behind prison bars. It stands as a powerful indictment of the inanities of our penal system. This from the Preface:
‘My position is clear on the subject of the offending citizen and it is simply this: it is impossible to train men for freedom in conditions of captivity’.

The autobiography is soaked in the gospel of reform. Jago may have claimed that he had no moral motive in his writing but one message sounds out from beginning to end. Prison sucks. Consider the concluding words from the last page:

‘Recently, someone asked me what had influenced me most since coming out of prison. Without doubt it was my discovery of women. I had accepted during the past 20 years that I was a monastic sort of person and the thought of women frightened me. But suddenly I discovered the other sex and for me the love of a woman has completed my life and has made me a total human being.
Before, I was only half a person, like the 40,000 men now locked up. I would consider my life in prison a total waste, were it not that out of it has come a message.
I am going to be very arrogant in speaking about my own little gospel, but it has come from experience. Prisoners are people, and they need other people, and I think that most criminals don’t want to be criminals at all.
This may sound sentimental but I believe that, if given half the chance, they would rather do good than evil.
I think it is up to society – that is, us – to give them that chance.’ 

Locked up in the cell for over twelve hours a day when there's trouble on the block

Jago had much more to say on this and much else as you will discover if and when you read your copy of 'The Remarkable Life of Jago Stone' by Rob Donovan, published by Unicorn PG. 

The above extract is a taster and this link - press here -will take you to an earlier blogpost that I published on Jago and his views on prison. 

The state of a nation's prisons is a measure of its civil and human values - we are failing miserably

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